best songs of 2012

December 27, 2012

In no particular order (because ordinal rankings are even dumber than calling some music ‘the best’)…I make no excuses or disclaimers, except the timeless adage that  ‘u r what u r.’


The second song released from Swing Lo Magellan, ‘Dance for You’ is so featherweight that those campfire handclaps could be the only thing weighing it down. But really, who could not fall in love with the lyric “There is an answer/I haven’t found it/But I will keep dancing til I do/Dance for you”? Cold motherfuckers, that’s who.

TOURIST – Your Girl

If the Postal Service were still around, making the kind of tunes we all wish they still would, ‘Your Girl’ would be right at home alongside ‘Brand New Colony’ and ‘The District Sleeps Alone Tonight,’ putting more emphasis on the I and less on the D in the horrible acronym that is IDM. Spacey, yet intimate and loved-up good times.

FRANK OCEAN – Bad Religion

Ocean’s magnum opus amongst an album ostensibly full of opii, there’s no denying the depth of ‘Bad Religion.’ Channel Orange is a good album, but if there’s gonna be a defining statement that truly stands the test of time, ‘Bad Religion’ will be it. Frank’s wounded delivery carries this thing basically the whole way through, receding beneath the strings where appropriate, then wresting back control at precisely the right moments. Mesmerising stuff.

FLUME – I Met You

More Flume than “Flume: The Album,” this featherweight summer jam, with an understated female vocal and a woozy, blissful beat, lulls you into a state of comfort and security, threatening to breeze right by you, until that huge outro comes back around to catch you unarmed and unawares. Slip and slide, for real.


The opening song from the most disgustingly overlooked album/band of 2012 sees The Maccabees reaching the kind of mature heights that I hoped – but maybe never really believed – they were capable of. Wave after wave of plaintive harmonies and cascading guitars reach an ear-splitting crescendo after three minutes that sees these affable London boys at their patient and potent best. Maybe to some it might sound like The Maccabees are taking themselves a bit too seriously, but remember: these are the guys who sang “Latchmere’s got a wave machine,” and got away with it. Heinously competent songwriting finally matched by a studio sound befitting of the best British indie band goin’ round.


Killer Mike came out with an old-school R.A.P. (emphasis his, not mine) album in 2012 that to many signalled the long-awaited return of confrontational, politically hyper-charged hip-hop  ‘Big Beast,’ the opening track, bursts through the gates like a famished guard dog and doesn’t let up, not even for a single second. El-P’s old school, big, er, beat production is menacing and minimalistic, just how forefathers Public Enemy would have liked.(Also: most unforgettable music video of 2012, easily).

KIMBRA – Warrior

Can we call 2012 the year that Kimbra finally ‘made it?’ Is there any conceivable upper limit to her stardom? This reporter thinks not, but for now, ‘Warrior,’ while not strictly her best song, is the one that both encapsulated her pop sensibilities and made her a household name (as opposed to ‘that girl in the Gotye video’). A party tune for any situation (see: equally heavy rotation on both commercial and independent channels) courtesy of A-Trak’s production, with a vague Southern twang thanks to Mark ‘the People’ Foster, this would have been some disposable tripe in the wrong hands, yet it is Kimbra who really makes it her own in an undeniable way.

TY SEGALL – You’re the Doctor

Ty Segall is what has been sorely missing from American rock music for the last little while. Garage music the way it’s supposed to be played: done and dusted in two-minutes, solos full of missed notes, and a maximum of four or maybe five power chords. “There’s a problem…IN MY BRAIN” Segall sneers as if it were a badge of honour, not something to hide from your teachers. God bless him.

ELLIPHANT – Down on Life

Yikes. A late showing from these Swedish vamps. Are they Gucci models? Disposable indie fashionistas? Or the real deal? Time will tell, but for now, think Robyn by way of Tegan & Sara, and don’t skimp on the pessimism, either; “We are waking up in a world of shit” proclaim the opening lines. These babes don’t just suggest it, they snarkily fucking TELL it, and when that chorus drops, you’d better either freak out or get the heck out of the way. How’s about a smile, girls?

KILL PARIS – Tender Love

If there’s such a thing as a ‘dubstep lullaby,’ ‘Tender Love’ is surely it. ATTN: Ravers – if you find yourself in the awkward position of needing to make a sentimental mixtape for your crush, make sure ‘Tender Love’ is the first track. She’ll spit our her lollipop and fall straight into your arms.


Typically dense yet hauntingly beautiful stuff from Grizzly Bear. Ed Droste’s lyrics border on the Shakespearean at times (“I will but a man did more this break”…?) but that melody couldn’t be any more timeless. The production is so muffled that even the drums sound fuzzed-out, but when that chorus gives way to Droste and his vocals, you’ll know that you’ve arrived at the altar of indie rock. The vaguely dissonant bridge/outro is the necessary unsettling element present in all of Grizzly Bear’s tracks, and the icing on the cake to an unforgettable tune.


Japandroids were no strangers to critical adulation this year; I myself even gave them a very positive review on Tonedeaf back in June. My sentiments haven’t changed, though: their version of ‘Younger Us’ on Celebration Rock is the tune that best encapsulates what these Canadian boys are all about and the song that I find myself coming back to the most. It’s easy to envision frontman Brian King on stage situated three feet back from his microphone, eyes closed, head thrown back and hair dripping with sweat as he shouts (rather than sings) “Give me younger us!” It’s reckless and loud, but also tinged with nostalgia and a longing for simpler times, and it’s honest, life-affirming stuff.

NAS – Accident Murderers

What can be said about ‘Accident Murderers?’ Nas’ comeback album ‘Life is Good’ was full of Kanye-level orchestration and lyrics so self-assured you would have been forgiven for believing that Nas couldn’t possibly ever have been anything OTHER than at the top of his game. ‘Accident Murderers’ tells the story of the frivolity and futility of mob-mentality thug violence, but in such a dexterous and competent fashion you’d be also be forgiven for simply ignoring its heavy subject matter and grindin’ up on the nearest female. Even Rick Ross manages to hold his own, but Nas’ second verse, so potent that it requires a quiet musical interlude beforehand, and its rhyme pattern, so complex it takes dozens of listens just to parse, would be worthy of making this list on its own.


I am not ashamed to admit liking Alabama Shakes way more than I probably should, but I also firmly believe that in Brittany Howard, we have arguably unearthed rock and roll’s most potent new frontwoman. ‘Hold On’ is the obvious choice as a single to make this list, but really, what’s not to love? A soul beat that could have been lifted straight outta Otis’ catalogue, posi lyrics and the most arresting vocal hook of any tune in 2012, the fact Brittany gives every note on ‘Boys and Girls’ her all only makes ‘Hold On’ all the more undeniable.

ALT-J – Matilda

You gotta hand it to Alt-J. Love them or hate them (I find myself leaning towards the latter), they are not afraid of experimentation and switching up the well-worn trope that is whiney Brit-pop. Joe Newman’s charismatic delivery and the off-kilter rhythm section (in particular, some fanciful percussive acoustic guitar work) elevate this track – more than any other – beyond the album’s general theme of ‘mildly quirky’ into ‘strangely affecting’ territory. If only there were more tracks of this calibre on it.

JESSIE WARE – Wildest Moments

The only thing stopping this track from shooting straight to number one and annoying the living hell out of you every time you go to a club is it’s lack of an egregious techno-house beat from the likes of Calvin Harris or some such clown. Thankfully, we’re left instead with a minimalist R&B ballad, melodically triumphant and buoyant, yet capturing perfectly the feeling of being willingly stuck inside a destructive relationship: “Everyone must be wondering why we try; why do we try?” Jessie Ware’s album is a grower, but ‘Wildest Moments’ is the one…moment…when it’s truly arresting from go to whoa.

PURITY RING – Lofticries

‘Lofticries’ is what Martians have sex to. Or, what they listen to when on psychedelic drugs. This is music from another dimension. I have pored over this song, scrutinised it, wrung it dry, and it still sounds so wonderfully invigorating and mystical to me. There is a deep, penetrating magic imbued in this song. It is otherworldly, it is ethereal, it is paper-thin, it is infinitely dense. This is ‘music’ in its purest form, a burst of emotion and texture that is at once foreign, alienated and yet piercingly personal. Words do not do justice to the wave of things that I feel each and every time I listen to ‘Lofticries.’ Focus on the black-hole-dark lyrics, or let that alien melody carry you away of its own accord; however you choose to interpret Purity Ring is up to you, but it doesn’t make it any less captivating.


pray for rain

August 20, 2012

Last time turned out to be the emptiest of promises, and what can I say, I really have no excuses for not writing. For somebody who portends to have writerly aspirations, my output would make even Harper Lee snigger with condescension. The last six (or is it seven? Eight? Nine?) months have been a series of fits and starts, roller coaster mood swings and making long-term plans with only a short-term grip on the direction my life is taking.

What I haven’t been doing is watching movies. The other night (admittedly, after a six month-long streak of purely visceral recreation, I probably wasn’t in the best state of mind)  I made the deliberate effort to sit down with one of the ‘classics,’ i.e. movies that people like to bang on about in university lectures and expensive quarterly journals costing $17.95, but which few regular people have ever actually seen. Films like The 400 Blows and anything by Godard used to inspire a sense of youth, freedom and sexual energy, even when they were dealing with hefty socio-political themes. But The Rules of the Game, for all its melodrama and comedy, just grated on me. Chekov’s gun makes it’s painfully obvious appearance about halfway through the film, in the guise of a kinetic hunting sequence where our heroes and heroines go game shooting on the grounds of the chateau. Hares scatter haphazardly through the tundra as Renoir’s camera tracks them from its stationary vantage point, the objective spectator; the obvious irony is that the characters become the indelible victims of their frivolous whims, and end up turning their guns on themselves.

Is the point simply that, regardless of class, we are all subject to the same tantrums of the heart, the same irrepresible hedonistic urges, the same desire to subvert the ‘rules’ of polite society? Cause that’s what I got out of it, and beyond this pretty simplistic message, all I could see were melodramatic and immature society types geeking out on their own egos. Call it what you like, but the upper class (at least in post-WWI France) are/were some pretty unbearable people. At least with Altman’s Gosford Park (which obviously took The Rules of the Game as its primary source material), we have the added  visceral thrill of a murder mystery to spice things up.

Not enjoying movies like The Rules of the Game makes me wonder about my intellectual well-being; have I literally grown out of the stage of my life where I cared about academics? Or is it more like a muscle that needs to be trained and routinely exercised in order to be maintained? In truth, it’s probably more a case of investing too much time and energy in more immediate and temporary gratification; I’ve been looking for cheap thrills in music, sport and life. A game of football, for instance, contains all the narrative qualities of a good book (in my opinion), with its rich history of rivalries, alliances, double-crossing, defecting and corporate influences, combined with the way the games themselves ebb and flow, evolve and reach a climax. This is something I plan to go into in more detail later. But I will just say that I don’t really buy Chomsky’s idea that institutionalised sports are an opiate for the masses, satisfying our collective bloodlust, in lieu of governments not being able to get away with waging meaningless wars (at least not all of the time). People like me enjoy sports not only as a physical spectacle – which, by the way, speaks directly to our animalistic instinct to seek out the fastest, strongest, most ruthless member of the tribe – but to our simple appreciation for a good fucking story.

Those are the kinds of tangents I need to distil into more focused and specific entries into this here blog, if I’m ever gonna make it in the cut-throat world of journalism. But then again, major news corporations pay idiots to blog about weekends in Vegas, so what do I know?

comeback of the year

January 10, 2012

I really want to be posting in here more often but I realised that I painted myself into a corner by only ever posting long, drawn-out pieces and elaborating upon them so that I would feel justified in bringing them up in the first place, but that sucks because then I can’t just post short little tidbits and get away with it. Or at least, I could, over at Tumblr, and I’d be doing that right now if someone hadn’t taken the username spiderfingers back in 2009.

Just wanted to say, publicly, that since starting Dave Eggers’ A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, I don’t really know what I’m gonna read next. This is weird because as long as I can remember I’ve had a working list about five deep of books I would read once I finished the one I was currently on.

Here is a list of books that have gone mysteriously and suspiciously missing from my shelves over the past three years:

  • The Picture of Dorian Gray
  • Norwegian Wood
  • A Player of Games
  • The last two books in the Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Series
  • Atomised
  • Love in the Time of Cholera
  • The Language Instinct

If you know of their whereabouts please contact me, there is a handsome cash reward in it for you.

The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler is, even by Chandler standards, highly revered. As well as being his longest Phillip Marlowe novel, it’s also the most fatalistic, the most world-wearied, the most introspective and the most cynical.

Marlowe, the archetypical post-depression era private eye (and vehicle for Humphrey Bogart’s illustrious career as the smooth-talking, womanising, gun-toting detective) is in rare form here. He is cunning and yet optimistic. He knows when to wax lyrical, and he knows when to keep his trap shut. In this day and age it may be harder to believe that women may respond to his gruff manner, constant rebuffs and infinite cynicism by unfastening their bathrobes, but believe it or not, there is an element of romance in Chandler’s writing. It’s not all fast talking and high trousers. As the web of lies and scandal spins itself around him, Marlowe becomes involved in an ever- tenuous struggle to keep his own cool, to hold on to his standards and of course to keep doing his job. It may not be glamorous work, but for Marlowe it seems that in an increasingly fractured society, the private eye beat is the only yardstick by which he can measure his own morality; by remaining honest whilst digging to the deepest recesses of the most corrupt and sordid of characters, Marlowe seeks his own redemption more than that of his misdirected clientele. He knows better than to assume that the coyer the smile, the more innocent the girl.

I guess that leads to my only real criticism of The Long Goodbye; Marlowe himself is often prone to the kind of sentimentality that is incongruous with the sordid line of business he is in. I doubt anybody charging twenty-five dollars per day would repeatedly stick his neck out to such dangerous lengths in order to adhere to some unspoken moral code. He is, at heart, too optimistic to be believable, when his worldview is so sharply cynical and fatalistic. I suppose in that sense you could argue that his optimism acts as a counterbalance and thus a plot device to propel the story – a lesser man would either get dead or give up, and then there’d be no story to tell. Marlowe, and indeed Chandler, don’t necessarily adhere to the adage that “the tragedy of life … is not that the beautiful things die young, but that they grow old and mean,” sage wisdom though it may be.

The violence in Chandler, unlike, say, Hammett, is brief, often takes place behind closed doors or just barely within earshot, and is over in a matter of a few lines. Hammett prefers the dynamic, protracted kind of action sequences, characterised by lots of sneaking around, silent pursuits, foot chases and noisy, bloody gunfights that often result in less people living than dying. On the contrary, more often than not Marlowe just happens upon violence. Indeed, the novel’s most violent moment comes very early on, and the remaining 400 pages sometimes seem like they are, to use the author’s own words, recovering from that one big hangover.

With the violence out of the way early, it allows Chandler and Marlowe room to take their time. Despite the novel’s length, there are days where he does little more than visit a bar and pick up a newspaper; there are extended sequences where he spends time following the faintest of scents in the hope of uncovering some unlikely connection that will link itself to the case. In many ways its languid mood is a reflection of the heat of the Californian summer, and of course this sultry atmosphere is as much a character in Chandler’s writing as Marlowe himself. The measured pacing and heavy atmosphere allow for a lot of reflection, a lot of dialogue and a lot of commentary. Chapters often end abruptly with sarcastic quips such as “[c]ops never say goodbye. They’re always hoping to see you again in the line-up,” but they usually come just as Marlowe has reached the end of his patience, or has had a little too much to drink. After all, what would the hard-boiled genre be without a resigned fatalism? Marlowe is a loner. The nights that he doesn’t spend alone are spent sprawled out drunk one somebody’s couch, for instance, or in resigned talks with marked men who are not long for this world. Under these circumstances it’s understandable that Marlowe would become jaded. Chandler was writing at the pinnacle of Hollywood’s decadence and depravity; before gangs and poverty infiltrated and when rich socialites legitimately ruled the roost, not corporations. There are class struggles aplenty and it’s clear that no amount of refined manners can cover up the inherent flaws in the imaginations of the upper-class. Chandler is a working class author for a working class audience who makes no secret of his disdain for extravagant tastes and lifestyles.

Of course, with The Long Goodbye, Chandler not only proves himself a master of prose but also of plotting. It may seem that all the dead ends and cold trails are all tied-up nice and neat with a little pink bow on top, until we are forced to reflect deeply on the fates of all the characters in the book’s final pages. What was long since dead and buried may just resurface; likewise the glimmers of optimism gradually flicker out. There is a deep sadness embedded within these pages, between all the sharp wit and criticism, and in many ways the title of the novel itself suggests what is to come – a protracted, heart-wrenching outward sigh that can indeed only end in one very particular way.

cupid’s poison arrow

February 15, 2011

Dunno if anybody ever told you, but Valentine’s Day in Japan is arse-backwards. Of course, the time-honoured tradition involves pimply teenaged dudes trying to woo girls that are way out of their league by buying them gifts, flowers, or serenading (and creeping the utter hell out of) them with an acoustic guitar from their front lawn (I guess they are just hoping for some Rapunzel-type moment, but I’ve only ever met one girl with hair that long, and I sure wouldn’t want to serenade her, nor would I want to repel up the side of her house by holding onto her hideous rat-tail lock of hair, and without doing that how the hell else do these guys expect to actually get into these girls ‘ bedrooms without having a full-frontal collision with an irate father?), but all of that is not without a certain awkward and charming romance.

Yes, dear readers, Valentine’s Day here in Japan is sadly little more than another way to reinforce an embarrassingly outdated social hierarchy and (like almost everything else) utterly void of any real emotion. Giggling girls exchange tacky trinkets instead of  receiving charmingly misspelled love letters, and repressed female members of staff are constantly reminded of their status as doting and passive sex-objects by being expected to ‘gift upwards’ to their male co-workers, who (naturally!) all enjoy a higher social status than they do. Females are expected to give gifts to males on Valentine’s Day, while the males sit back, relax, smoke their cigarettes, play slot machines and daydream about other ways in which they could slow down the country’s birth rate.

Sweet, sweet guilt.

I know this is true, because when I came to work this morning and found chocolates on my desk from the beautiful young Japanese teacher who sits opposite me, my male co-worker actually joked about the chocolates being from him as he gorged himself on his own bounty. I felt so guilty, and I don’t even want to eat these things because of it. But how can I repay the favour without a) going against the grain of my adopted society, or worse, b) looking like a smitten fool? Is there any way to show your appreciation for women, not just in Japan but in any society, without a sexual or at least a romantic connotation? I’ve heard stories about extremist vigilante feminists who don’t like having doors held open for them.

Let’s be honest, part of the fun of Valentine’s Day, and the romantic world in general, is the gamble that you take every time you put your heart on the line in front of somebody. Where would the fun be if we were guaranteed success every time we asked somebody out? It’s a delicate interplay of emotions, appetites and manipulative skill that dictates the outcome of even the most vaguely romantic social interaction.I’m pretty sure Valentine’s Day would give even Christmas a decent run for its money in the biggest-selling Hallmark-endorsed fake holiday stakes, but it’s sad that in this country it has slowly transformed from the one day of the year where people could get unashamedly romantic into yet another rigid institution, and, at least for women, a veiled opportunity for them to exercise their femininity by exchanging sweets and cards with each other, away from the prying, lecherous eyes of the men that govern them.

A final thought (what am I, Jerry Springer?): I’m told that on White Day (March 14th), males are expected to return the favour of the bounty they received on Valentine’s Day. Although, except in the increasingly rare cases of genuine romance, it seems to me that the function of White Day is not so much to return a favour as it is to unburden oneself of the guilt of having received a gift for no reason whatsoever on Valentine’s Day in the first place. The end result, naturally, is that men get away guilt-free and women get a nice gift to pacify their wild and unpredictable emotions. And everybody gets on with their lives. Seems like a fair trade to me.

This probably all sounds like a huge whinge. It’s not. I actually had a pretty great Valentine’s Day with a pretty special person. As a foreigner, I am in the priveliged position of being able to look upon these precedings with an objective sense of irony. Before y’all attack me for being a Nippon playa-hata, just keep in mind that these rants are not intended to be anything more than mildly entertaining. Yoroshiku, ne?

phoned in

January 19, 2011

Music-wise, 2010 saw the high-bandwidth/lo-fidelity indie revolution come full-circle. Just when you thought it was safe to admit to liking a few bands that had cracked the mainstream, indie kids thought the most appropriate course of action would be to start making music so unlistenable that simply to be able to tolerate it for the length of one (90-second) song indicated either an existence on a higher astral plane of musical enlightenment, or (more likely) a rejection of the convention of music itself, in any given scene, and a subscription to nothing more than painful self-effacement in order to prove some kind of anti-establishment political stance, like hippies who chain themselves to trees and defecate in their pants, or more appropriately, that god-awful “interior semiotics” video that went viral. Their only raison d’etre would be to serve as secret handshakes for entry into the indie elite.

Last year, liking bands that had only ever played one show, under a tarpaulin strung up beside some friend of the band’s step-dad’s caravan, in front of nine fans, and had the show bootlegged off a mobile phone recording onto a series of twelve hand-labelled cassette tapes, and then broke up because they felt they had already sold out too much, so they dispersed and then congealed into six separate side-projects (two each)…liking those kinds of bands became not only cool again, but a necessary requirement for having your opinions cared about.

The highlight and culmination of my year in music was probably when I met that one-man-band Duck Tails in Tokyo, who had just come off playing some shows in Melbourne. I asked him where he played and which bands he played with, and I hadn’t heard of any them. He did compliment me on my jacket, though, which I guess is validation enough for me.

Well, the anti-bourgeois battle plan kinda backfired. Sucks to your assmar, Duck Tails. Pitchfork decreed that bands like No Age and Beach House be unleashed upon the world, and that they be loved, and the ever-reliable legion of blog trolls played along, saturating my beloved internet with wave after Wavve of shitty repetitive lo-fi three-chord noise. The irony, of course, is that it’s now cliche to be into those very bands who were only forced into existence to try to avoid getting fans in the first place.

Luckily a few sage hands showed up to save the day. Here is a brief list of some of my favourites from last year.

best albums of 2010

The Gamits – Parts (click to stream entire album)

It’s fitting that my album of the year is also the biggest surprise, best throwback album, and comeback album of the year. The Gamits have proven once and for all the validity of modern pop punk. This album is gritty, heavy, catchy, but most importantly, it’s meaningful; here is a band that was pushed into obscurity when pop-punk and emo took off on a worldwide scale, and years down the track they have reformed and released a deeply personal, punishing, haunting album that blows away everything they did in the past (which was already very good in it’s own right). It flew under the radar when it was released, and I think The Gamits would almost prefer it that way, because Parts is a huge middle-finger to what pop music has become over the last few years. Put your prejudices aside and give this album an honest go – I doubt you will be disappointed.

The Tallest Man on Earth – The Wild Hunt

I almost stumbled on this one, yet there’s something about The Wild Hunt that came to define the first part of 2010 for me. You will either love his voice or hate it, but there’s no denying this kind of songwriting. There is a starkness to most of the lyrics and they carry an elemental preoccupation, rife with references to weather and landscapes; everything seems very personal, but at the same time it’s hard to pin down. Of course it also helps that Kristian Mattson is also a damn fine geetar player.

Tame Impala – InnerSpeaker

I feel like a dork for including this, but these guys put together one dreamy, breezy album so free of pretension you will forget what year it is.

Robyn – Body Talk

Swedish pop with attitude, enough said.

Miami Horror – Illumination

The latter half of this album isn’t nearly as engaging as the first, but Miami Horror deserve praise for taking some brave steps away from big-beat electro on their debut album. Singles ‘I Look to You,’ and ‘Holidays’ easily take their places among the best Aussie tracks of 2010.

Sufjan Stevens – All Delighted People EP

Sufjan at his elaborate, intimate best; despite it’s extraordinary running time, this EP is remarkably cohesive and melodic, which is a first for him.

The National – High Violet

Like all their albums, High Violet is a slow-burner and one that takes a good while to sink in. It goes without saying, but The National are deceptively complex and reward repeated listens, and High Violet is no different.

The Walkmen – Lisbon

Two Door Cinema Club – Tourist History

Ellie Goulding – Lights

Chromeo – Business Casual

Editor’s note: Chromeo and Ellie Goulding both also qualify as 2010’s biggest guilty pleasures.

Los Campesinos! – Romance is Boring

None More Black – Icons

best songs of 2010

Bag Raiders – Sunlight

Miami Horror – Holidays

Good Shoes – The Way My Heart Beats

Sufan Stevens – Enchanting Ghost

Tokyo Police Club – Favourite Colour

Marina & the Diamonds – Are You Satisfied?

Yeasayer – ONE

The Walkmen – Angela Surf City

Kanye West (feat. everyone) – Monster (Nicki Minaj’s verse is the defining musical moment of 2010.)

Broken Bells – The High Road

Ellie Goulding – Your Biggest Mistake

biggest disappointments

Foals – Total Life Forever (This band’s main appeal to me was the feeling like each of their songs was the result of some mathematical equation designed for maximum tautness and efficiency. It was a world where emotions were simply not allowed. They were about as cold and detached as any rock band could possibly be. With their second album they went for a roomier and more atmospheric sound which is at odds with their cool stoicism. The result? Yawn.)

Bag Raiders (It sucks that the best track on this album is still ‘Shooting Star.’ A few others come close, but most of the album doesn’t make any impression. And what is up with that one track, ‘Always?’ That one sounds like it should be the aural accompaniment  to a Salt’n’Pepa video clip or something, featuring the worst key change and the worst lyrics released by any respectable group in 2010. Truly, truly awful.)

i just don’t get it

Sleigh Bells (The only difference between this band and a bunch of autistic 6 year-olds is that Sleigh Bells have a drum machine to make sure they keep in time.)

The Drums (Is this supposed to be cute or something? This is the musical equivalent of an ankle-high Scottish terrier that just doesn’t shut the fuck up.)

Caribou (One or two atmospheric and groovy tracks doesn’t mean anybody should give a shit. Most overrated crap of the year.)

Klaxons (They were shit back in 2006 and they have somehow gotten worse without changing a god damn thing.)

ok, you got me

The Arcade Fire – The Suburbs (This album is actually pretty great.)

favourite remixes of the year

Now, I’m not pretending like I’m some expert on this kind of stuff. Alls I know is, these tracks feature some of the most insane beats you are likely to encounter and they will no doubt feature prominently when I start making my “special DJ set” appearances in 2011.

Muscles – Sweaty (Shazam remix)

Miike Snow – Black and Blue (NAPT remix)

Marina and the Diamonds – I Am Not a Robot (Passion Pit remix)

Cut Copy – Lights and Music (Moulinex Remix)

most anticipated


Iron & Wine

Cut Copy



special feature: best inexplicable cover of the year

This kid took yet another GaGa abomination and not only turned it into an actual song, but a fucking emotional roller coaster that will make your hairs stand on end.

So that’s it. I’m sure I’ve missed lots. I’m always open for suggestions so do let me know about my glaring omissions. I might post a “part two” of sorts wherein I talk about films and television and the likes, but then again, I might not. Until next time!

I never used to need to read others’ blogs to find inspiration to post my own. Maybe I should. As I’ve gotten older I’ve come to see my own opinions, vantage points and emotional responses as increasingly mundane and rudimentary, and as such I’ve mercifully withheld most of my potential outbursts from you internet-going public. If you were Charlie, blessed with the golden ticket and allowed to peek behind the closed doors of this blog, you would probably catch a glimpse of what we call ‘the storeroom,’ which is something like a basement with grimy jars lining crooked, splintered shelves, containing an eerily glowing ectoplasm, each suspending one of thousands of aborted foetuses, the offspring of awfully botched experiments straight out of B-grade mad scientist sci-fi.

That shouldn’t imply that this whole time I’ve been striving to create some superior blog-like being, down in my lab, dishevelled, calculating, broken test tubes and mice peppering the floor. On the contrary, there is a murky, stale air down there, the lights are all but burnt out, and there are cobwebs on most of the equipment.

A large part of my 2010 involved an utter retreat from confrontation, whether it was with my friends, students, myself, whatever, and instead I often found myself trawling online department stores, trendy-to-the-point-of-sheer-satire style blogs, or the worst offender, tech reviews sites. And as Christmas, that culmination of twelve months worth of material and emotional longing, edges steadily nearer, I am both ashamed yet proud to say I don’t want or need anything. Except maybe a hug.

the chicken or the egg

October 7, 2010

Recently, after seeing some films like The Road and the powerful documentary Collapse, I found my mind to be more and more concerned with the issue of sustainability.

Have you ever paused in the supermarket, taken a step back and observed all the other consumers around you, and asked youself, ‘where does all this shit come from?’ The walls are stacked high around you with processed, brightly packaged and accessible foods, which are all mostly anonymous (product names often help to obscure the ingredients of what you are eating to a point of utter irrelevance; could any of you tell me the main ingredients in a can of Coke?), appetising and yet tantalisingly affordable.

Take one example; a box of corn flakes, one of the more innocuous staples of any given supermarket. Let’s say the supermarket you are currently standing in has twelve boxes on the shelf. And in the storeroom out the back they have another forty or so. Then in the next supermarket down the road they have a similar amount. So already we are talking about a hundred or so unopened boxes serving a radius of a couple of kilometres at most. This is obviously a highly conservative guess, based on the assumption that there are only two supermarkets in your town. And that is to say nothing of all the half-empty boxes sitting on your (and your neighbours’) shelves.

If an average box is 500g, then in the supermarkets alone we have at least 50kg of dried corn sitting around. Where does all this corn come from? To create this small amount alone would require a pretty decent patch of land.

So first, the land needs to be tilled, the corn planted, and eventually harvested. This is more than likely done by machine, a machine which was manufactured in a completely different place and then transported to the farm at a huge, irreversible environmental cost. Then you must transport this corn to a processing plant (more machines), where it is dried (artificially to increase production) and rolled into flakes by, yep, even more massive machines.

Meanwhile, somewhere else, plastic bags are being made by the millions to hold these little buggers. And there is yet another huge factory dedicated to making boxes, and another dedicated to printing the bright colourful labels. Then, of course, all these components need to be taken to the same place and ‘assembled,’ that is, the corn flakes put into bags, the bags sealed, the boxes folded, the bags inserted, the bags glued shut, and finally, stacked by the tens of thousands onto a vehicle and taken to a distribution warehouse somewhere. There are dozens of massive, heavy machines involved, huge amounts of land, at least four enormous factories, and finally a huge amount of manpower involved just to make sure those crunchy little pellets end up in a correctly labelled carton.

All this for a box of corn flakes.

Then extrapolate these numbers for every single product on the shelves in any given supermarket. I ask again; where does all this shit come from? And what if it were to suddenly disappear?

I first began to ask myself these questions long before I ever saw a movie like The Road. When I started travelling, and visiting grocers and supermarkets in other countries, I was most immediately struck by the similarities more than the differences. Supermarkets are more or less uniform across the entire developed world, with similar price points (comparatively) and similar amounts of stock on their shelves relative to the area they serve.

Admittedly, the population of the ‘developed world’ is dwarfed by those living in poverty or near-poverty without luxuries like supermarkets. Yet proportionately, it is no secret that we as consumers are all taking way more than we are giving back. We all eat an obscene amount of food, and a huge majority of it comes from supermarkets.

What would happen to us if it was all gone?

If we need such huge areas of land to produce that small number of boxes of corn flakes, I dare you to even try to imagine the total amount of land on the planet that is dedicated to making sure our supermarket shelves are constantly stacked high.

If the huge amounts of farmland and other resources required to mass-produce corn flakes, Coke, instant noodles, cooking oil, beer and wine, fruit juice, Mars Bars, whatever, became overloaded and unsustainable, the spill-over effects would likely reduce the efficiency and affordability of supermarkets across entire regions. Eventually, they would cease to be viable, and they would cease to operate. And then, what would you do for food? Does anybody under the age of thirty, living in an urbanised area, know how to grow, harvest and prepare their own food? Personally, I can’t even keep a small bonsai alive for longer than six months. Imagine if we all had to start raising livestock.

These are the feelings I am overcome with when I take a moment to myself at the supermarket. Where does it all come from, and how can there be so much of it without it ever running out?

Overwhelmingly, my thoughts were not with the corn flakes, or the Coca Cola, or even the Pringles or Mars Bars. They were with the meat products. Since these are the freshest products in the supermarket, and since they represent such a huge proportion of our diets, their turnover is orders of magnitude greater than any other product on the shelves.

More significantly, their environmental cost is greater than any other product you can find in the supermarket. And, not insignificantly, the greatest disparity is with fresh fruits and vegetables.

Frankly, I’m not surprised that the Japanese don’t eat much fresh produce. The country is barely bigger than Victoria yet they have nearly 130 million people squeezed in. Most of the places without people are utterly inhabitable. So, where are they gonna grow their apples and oranges? The prices of fresh fruit and vegetables are extortionate, and I frequently get angry that I can’t justify the cost of up to $2 or $3 dollars for an apple or orange.


The Queen Victoria Market, Melbourne. This does NOT exist in Japan.


This is a major reason why my diet, since being in Japan, has gone from ‘not ideal’ to flat-out ‘unhealthy’ over the course of the last two years. I have been irresponsible and more or less lazy in what I eat, whether I am preparing it myself or ordering at a restaurant. But even as a meat eater, I’m constantly shocked and confused at the ubiquity of meat over here. Fast foot outlets routinely advertise portions that come with ‘double the normal amount of meat,’ and it’s not uncommon to encounter items on a menu with not just one, not two, but three or four different kinds of meat on the one plate. This obviously doesn’t sound healthy, and to me, it doesn’t even sound appetising. I don’t think my concerns about eating meat are entirely new, but like so many others, I chose not to think too carefully about them. Everything runs more smoothly that way; grocery shopping and social occasions are just two of the more obvious examples. As some of my friends over here have demonstrated, a diet without meat in Japan is possible, but it’s not exactly easy.

While I had heard bits and pieces of the environmental impact of factory farming, reading Eating Animals helped me to reconcile my suspicions about the ridiculous amount of resources it costs to put cheap meat on your supermarket shelves. Moreover, though, it helped me to align these suspicions about the environment with the very real issue of animal suffering, and see them as equal parts of one huge problem. As a humble consumer, thinking about that stuff is icky and awkward, and more than a little abstracted. How could your juicy fillet of meat have ever had eyes, ears, an imagination, relationships?

Of course, no book of this nature could be completely free of sentimentality. After all, the whole thing is kind of a personal journey for Jonathan Safran Foer, undertaken for the deeply personal reasons of deciding for himself what to feed his son. And any discussion of animal welfare or animal rights is routinely criticised (and often flatly dismissed) for its sentimentality, so I will not be the special exception and pretend that my interest in this subject is wholly environmental or economical. Reading the various accounts of animal abuse at factory farms in Eating Animals – and then discovering their alarming regularity – is confronting, and impossible to ignore.

Safran Foer’s writing is not as quirky or as humorous as in his other (fiction) works, and frankly, it need not be. The material doesn’t call for it. But it is economical, and lets the facts speak for themselves. I did not feel like I was being preached to, and indeed a large part of the book is dedicated to some of the few remaining ‘honourable’ farmers, who still slaughter animals but do it with a measure of dignity that is rapidly disappearing from the Western world. It’s easy to read, insofar as the language is easy to understand. Yet this will probably live on beyond his first two novels as the book that both made the greatest cultural impact and cemented Foer’s reputation as an important modern writer. It’s part memoir, part personal oath, part love story and part scathing expose.

There will come a time where the kinds of farms we rely upon to keep our supermarkets brimming are no longer viable. Simply pausing and observing the shoppers in your local supermarket and all the unnecessary consumption going on around you will convince you of this. If you have ever stopped to consider where all your food comes from, you owe it to yourself to read this book. I don’t think I can continue to eat the meat served up in restaurants and supermarkets knowing the environmental toll it has taken and the suffering that it represents. And this is to say nothing, really, of the unhealthy lifestyle I have found myself sliding into since coming to Japan, where awareness of environmental issues and respect for different cultures and lifestyle choices is so low (how many times have you heard of someone in Japan asking for a vegetarian meal, only to be served up something with bacon or fish in it?).

I don’t want to make empty promises, and I’ve also tried not to get caught up rhetoric, both when I was reading the book and as I was writing this blog. But I can’t, in good conscience, keep living the way I have been living. At the very least, I need to be more responsible with what I eat. I’ve always prided myself on getting things done, even the ugly things, the hard things, the things that need doing. I guess this is another one of those times, maybe the first I’ve come across since moving over here, and it’s going to be one of the hard things, but this is something that I’ve suspected for a while and something that I feel I need to sincerely try.

So long.

moths to a flame

September 7, 2010

Ah, Japanese karee raisu. Perhaps the single most reliable meal ever devised by man. No matter what the occasion, a good dose of curry rice is probably the answer to all your woes. For those unable to deconstruct the horrible bastardisation of a perfectly good English phrase back into something cohesive, karee raisu translates rather clumsily as ‘curry on rice.’ Of course, this isn’t any particular kind of curry: it’s a generically tangy, mildly spicy brownish subtance vaguely suggesting that it was once truly tasty, and whose ingredients, in keeping with traditional Japanese stoic conservatism, daren’t venture beyond being potatoes, carrots, onions and beef.

Karee raisu is a culinary last resort that caters to all situations: lack of money, lack of creativity in the kitchen, lack of time to source a meal of any real nutritional value, lack of real hunger (but urgent need to consume food; see: Fuji Rock 2009). This latest batch I’ve cooked up is a doozy; I doubled the recommended quantities on the package in a front-page news worthy act of domestic rebellion, and an equally huge ‘fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me’  aimed squarely at those boring instructions printed so coyly on the back of the box. The result? Final confirmation that too much modern Japanese fast food is never enough. Here’s all that remains from my generous helping tonight (went somewhat cold as I was typing about it’s virtuousity, but it’s former splendour is still evidently visible):

I just found out how to embed mp3s into my blog, so from now on, expect this thing to be delivered not only in full color Panavision™ but also in stereoscopic surround sound!

The first little nugget won’t be a big surprise to anybody who knows how excited I was for the debut album from Melbourne electro groovers Miami Horror, or anybody who has been unlucky enough to be pulled up at a traffic light next to me over the past couple of weeks: this track, entitled ‘Holidays,’ is the best example of the group letting their pop smarts take the wheel, while keeping their indie/dance ambitions safely buckled in the child restrainer in the back seat. And don’t forget that the lead single ‘I Look To You’ features the divine Kimbra on lead vox!

What the hell, here’s the YouTube vid as well:

There are a few missteps on the album, which is a shame considering the strength of their first EP and the ridiculous amount of time they spent putting this thing together, but the good tracks are definitely worth the price of admission.

In the past, I’ve always been a little late to the party when it comes to Sufjan Stevens. With his last two or three albums, in particular the magnum opus Illinois, I felt like the hype had already swelled and receded when I finally got around to digesting it fully myself. For that reason, the whole exhibition seemed far too overwrought, too self-referential, too smart for it’s own good and kinda just not cohesive enough. Like different neighbourhoods of the area it was describing, most of the compositions felt too far removed from the ones immediately before or after them, and I was left thinking, ‘maybe I missed the boat on this one?’ Of course, there are a few undeniable heartbreakers on that particular album: ‘Casimir Pulanski Day’ and the haunting ‘John Wayne Gacy Jr.’ are two crushingly intimate songs with an emotional resonance I’ve rarely heard since Elliott Smith died.

So I decided, when he surprised all of us with his latest All Delighted People EP the other week, to jump on this train while it was still picking up speed, so that I might not miss another revelatory Sufjan event that has people up in arms proclaiming yet another second (or third or fourth) coming of our musical saviour. And this time around, it definitely struck a chord. This release is fantastic; not just in the quality of it’s tunes but it’s structure and sequencing. I never thought I could enjoy 20 minutes of what is essentially the same song…and then still want to press play again when it was all over. The two versions of the eponymous title track that bookend this release are reverential, hymnal, intimate and catchy in that uniquely Sufjanese way. Wedged between, as if almost an afterthought, are a couple of sweet little acoustic tunes that would stand tall on their own and deserve definitely not to be overlooked. But it’s the title tracks that inevitably steal the show, and for the first real time I’m drawn in to Sufjan’s wild, sunny, musical world, where small furry animals run free, there is a (double) rainbow all day, every day, and of course, a poison tree lurking in the corner of the garden somewhere, never spoken about, yet constantly tempting everyone to darkness and despair. Consider me a convert.

My HTC Desire Android missile command centre has been chugging along like a champion for the last month or so, and I am yet to encounter any task that it is not fully eager and willing to perform at my behest. It really is the Arnold Schwarzenegger of mobile phones; I’ve pumped it full of ‘roids (overclocked it to 1.3ghz) and it still hasn’t faltered. I’ve put it through stress tests that would make Mr. Incredible’s knees buckle (I have cracked 1800+ on Quadrant). And that’s not to sell it’s brainpower short, either; I’m pretty sure if I pushed it, it would be equally as capable as good old saggy-titted Arny of becoming Governor of any given US state.

In fact, I’m so proud of the little guy that I’m attaching a screenshot just to show off how flexible and understanding he is to my needs and, um, desires. Notice the modern Japanese twist?

Ok. So this next thing isn’t exactly relevatory news or anything, but I feel it deserves a mention on my little blog, just once.

I’ve been known to go off on scathing tangents in the past, spouting pithy and mostly ridiculous garbage about the state of the mainstream media (and it’s audience) in the Western consumerverse, particularly in Australia. I have complained about the way news programs run lead stories featuring death, bloodshed, lies, pollution and corruption as if in some endless attempt to eventually plunge all of us into some equally endless spiral of despair and misanthropy, contrasted with some sick, twisted sociopathic shit that is apparently only included to make us all feel uncomfortable and inadequate about our own boring sex lives.

Take, for example, a random selection of headlines from the front page of (Australia’s finest and most widely-read conservative news source) on my mobile phone as of this very moment, 8:45pm, Monday August 6th, 2010:

“Dad, why did you kill mum?” son asks.

Broke, scared man hides in shed for a year.

Politician’s wife exposed as prostitute.

KK (ed: who?) gets steamy with two naked men.

Long-distance romance ends in murder.

I don’t think I’m turning into one of those crackpot paranoid conspiracy theorists when I suggest that these headlines seem to be tending towards some pretty dark and violent topics. Why? It not only frustrates and confuses me on a philosophical level, but it makes me angry on a political level, too: there is so much fuss in Australia about censorship, the banning of this and and labelling of that as ‘not suitable’ for your children, or your disabled neighbour, your homosexual school teacher, your terminally ill grandparent who longs for euthanasia, your mixed-race girlfriend or your Nazi sympathiser pit bull terrier. Mainstream media and conservative politicians seem to love nothing more than telling us what is in the best interests of society, and that all these modern fancies (such as sex on TV, bad language and of course, the worst offender of them all, violent video games) are damaging the very fabric of society.

So what do they do in turn? How do they, judges of morality and final word on good taste, remedy this rot and atone for all the ills of the ‘alternative’ media? They jam violence and corruption down our throats, 24 hours per day, seven days per week, 363 days per year (they tend to take Christmas Day off so they can push their pro-Christian agenda a bit harder), with headlines like the ones I quoted above. They commission ads which are, in a word, terrifying, scaring us into taking out expensive insurance policies and making voluntary super annuation deposits in case some horrible accident should befall us. And, judging by the amount of death and decay I see on the news every night, those odds are pretty high.

Then, in their most horrible act of hypocrisy and exploitation of a dumb population, already juiced up, primed and baited to swallow each and every terrifying tidbit thrown their way, the media networks present an endless parade of ‘reality TV,’ manufactured precisely to show us how scary and awful the great big world is: drug traffickers at airports, corrupt CEOs swindling honest-working employees, drug-crazed criminals attacking little old ladies in quiet suburban streets, and of course, their piece de resistance, paedophiles and rapists who are still on the loose, everywhere, in all their different guises, lurking around each and every corner, ready to pounce on your kids as they make their merry way home from school, scarring them for life and opening up your chequebook to years of expensive professional emotional therapy (because what kind of parent would you be if you didn’t provide this kind of professional help for your children?).

It’s the hypocrisy that pisses me off the most: telling us what is and what isn’t acceptable in the media, and then subjecting us to their own twisted brand of news and ‘entertainment,’ the whole while passing it off as wholesome, informative, relevant and appropriate.

I mention this because since living in Japan I have noticed that the predilection with fear and violence is not world-wide. No, friends, in two years living in Japan, I have seen less than ten ads for banks, insurance companies or anything like that. Likewise, news reports are rarely focussed on local crimes, so people aren’t constantly reminded that there are horrible violent crimes occurring just around the corner. The result? A somewhat repressed, but generally upbeat population.

Take Exhibit A. I love this ad. There is no pretension here. There is no pressure. There is no exploitation, no stereotyping, no condescending dialogue. Just a catchy jingle and some dancing around. It’s all over in fifteen seconds. And that girl is seriously such a babe.

Why can’t Australian ads be more like that? Instead, we get this kind horrible shit. Words cannot describe how much this kind of thing infuriates me. If you, humble viewer, can endure this ad from beginning to end, then you are a bigger man than I:

That was a horrible song when it came out ten years ago, and your awful amateur actors aren’t making it any better. The worst thing about this ad, though, is the singularly selfish message behind it. Complaining about your fellow citizens and whinging that you always get the short end of the stick seems to be socially acceptable these days, and even ad-worthy.

Unfortunately, that one particular car insurance ad isn’t even the worst offender. Why didn’t I include an even more offensive one? I was talking to my mum about this the other night. The absolute bottom of the barrel ads, the ones that have been making us hate turning on the television for decades, are so God-awful that neither of us could even remember the name of the company they were advertising, rendering it impossible for me to even look them up on YouTube. That really says something for the effectiveness of television commercials.

Of course, I know I’m not alone in voicing these kinds of sentiments. Michael Ruppert has far more experience (and eloquence) regarding these matters than I do.

Well, that’s enough spite for one day. I’ve been pretty busy over the last week, mostly writing and marking exams under excruciating sweatshop conditions for the powers-that-be at my school. Somebody (me, perhaps) should make a webcomic about Japanese bureaucracy, and how anything slightly out of the ordinary is ‘difficult’ and subsequently muri desu (impossible). Like for example, how I was told that a percentage mark is ‘unfair,’ so instead I should write an exam out of exactly 100 marks. That would be some pretty good material for my first edition.

Tonight I am gonna go home and perhaps get stuck into some video gamin’. By gar, it’s been a while, and that new Metroid game looks like a riot. Maybe I’ll pick up some chewing gum on the way home…

Til next time!

blips and beats

August 25, 2010

I love being able to spend an hour or two on Hype Machine, and at the end of it all, come away feeling like I’ve just scraped the risen cream off the top of the world’s music blogs, and tapped back into a scene once so near and dear to me. More important, though, is the rush of energy that pulses through me every time I indulge in some piping hot new music which allows me to forget, however briefly, the stifling atmosphere of the country (both in a social and meteorological sense).

Images flash in my mind like portentous fragments of some acid trip in waiting, whether they are scenes from stories waiting to be written, sets from movies waiting to be filmed, or just places I wish I could be, with as-yet-unnamed characters providing the dialogue en masse. And yet another unstoppable urge to take a trip down to Tokyo engulfs me and leaves me powerless to resist. Indeed, it is the only place where this new soundtrack may find an appropriate storyboard to play out against, and the only place where these fantasies of mine might have the slightest chance of materialising into some lasting experiences.

It gives me some distant satisfaction when I see some previously-obscure (yet always terribly dear to me) Aussie act make a small splash on the infinity of the blogosphere, at some random blip in time. Moreover, though, I enjoy being able to sit back and marvel at my own prescience and good taste.

In somewhat geekier news, I can’t get enough of my HTC Desire Android-powered phone. This thing has occupied an unhealthy proportion of my total attention span of late. I love it for all the ways it’s different from my old iPhone; it’s snappy, user-friendly (unlike the iPhone, which actually hates people using it), pushes Gmail, and I can over-clock that mofo like nobody’s business. It may sound trivial, hell, it may even sound like I’m some spoiled white kid playing with his latest tech gadget, but in truth this is yet another part of my personal liberation, some might even say my penance for man’s original sin: giving birth to Apple products (the forbidden fruit).

Not long now until I’m back in Melbourne. I wonder, will she be able to fit me into her busy schedule? If so, will she be as eager to catch up as me? I wonder which trendy magazine I might see poking out the top of her calico book bag, where she might suggest we go to eat before going out. Or will she just play that disinterested, preoccupied card and leave me to make my own fun? Will she be all like she don’t even know me? But distance only makes the heart grow fonder, and I know that whatever happens, however she may feel about me when it’s all said and done, I will be glad we had spent some time together.